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Where to Live?

Grades: Grades 5-8
Author: Tess Ewart
Source: Source: Adapted from Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System from ESRI Schools and Libraries Program,


From Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System:

The use of computerized information is a growing part of everyday life. More and more people around the country and around the globe are plugging into geographic, social, economic, political, and environmental information to answer practical questions in their lives. The answers they find have relevance in their education, affect their business decisions, expand their understanding of the place they call home, and influence personal choices.

In this lesson, students will explore various aspects of their world using a Geographic Information System in order to make decisions.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Students should be able to identify some of the types of spatial data found in a GIS.
  • Students should be able to make associations between various GIS data layers.

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Students should be able to use a GIS to facilitate analysis and decision making.


  • GIS program such as: ArcView or ArcExplorer, My World GIS, Google Earth (see Prerequisites)
  • Computer
  • Large screen for computer presentation
  • Inventory of Residential Preferences handout



Ask students, "Have you ever seen or eaten a Club sandwich? What are the layers of the Club sandwich?" (bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, bacon, tomato, bread…) The presenter may want to have an actual Club sandwich as a visual. Tell the students, "Earth is like a Club sandwich. What are the layers of Earth?" (core, mantle and crust or core, mesosphere, asthenosphere, lithosphere) Tell students that "GIS, Geographic Information Systems, are used in many aspects of daily life. GIS is like an Earth sandwich with each layer representing a set of data. GIS will go into greater detail about the layers of Earth than we just mentioned." Tell the students, "A way to envision what can be included in a GIS database is if you can answer "yes" to the question, can it be mapped?" Ask the students to "brainstorm what sort of information (layers) you could find in a GIS, what things can be mapped?" (Some general examples are the following: hydrology, topography, ecology, geology, land use, utilities, soil types, streets, land parcels, other human characteristics such as demographic or socioeconomic) Tell the students to look at the layers that were brainstormed, classify and sort the layers into two groups - physical layers and human layers. (Physical layers are information about the natural features of an area. Human layers are facts about people, their structures, or their interactions with the land.)

Demo the GIS program for the students. Have the students use the GIS program to view your city or one nearby. Have students identify different items on the map and classify each layer that is represented on the map as a type of information they brainstormed earlier. Have students share their findings.

Assessment: Monitor student ideas of layers, grouping of layers and classification of GIS program layers.


Tell the students, "They can choose to live anywhere that they want in the United States. They have the support of friends and/or family for such a move and the money necessary to make it happen. They need to decide where to live." Have students individually fill out the Inventory for Residential Preferences (see handouts). After filling out the inventory, students should rank the major categories in order of importance to them. Once the students have determined the categories that matter most to them, have the students use the GIS program to determine a location that meets those requirements. Have the students share with the class what was the most important category in determining where to live with their reasons why and the place(s) they ended up choosing.

Assessment: Resulting location where students would like live.


Ask the students, "what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a GIS in order to determine where to live? Include your reasons." (An example of an advantage would be the ease and speed of mapping their preferences, any disadvantages would depend on the GIS program used.)

Assessment: Discussion on the advantages and disadvantages in using GIS in decision making.


Have students discuss ways that GIS improves our lives (see Applications), the limitations of technologies (cost, materials, etc.) and how science helps drive technology (see NSES Standard E).

Assessment: Discussion on technology in our lives.


Possible GIS programs: My World GIS - PASCO Scientific, ArcView or ArcExplorer - ESRI programs, Google Earth - free program, Other Programs can be found at

Depending on the GIS program used, the software may need to be installed on the computers the students will be using prior to the start of the activity. Check out the GIS program prior to finalizing lesson plans since different GIS programs will have different features and layers.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Use of Technology in Science Instruction

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • MS-PS4-3 Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.
  • MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution,taking into account relevant scientific principles and potenitial impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • MS-ETS1-3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
  • MS-ETS1-4 Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Common Core Standards:

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • RST.6-8.3 Follow preciesly a multistep procedure when carrying our experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
  • WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

National Standards:

  • Content Standard A: 5-8 Science as Inquiry
  • Content Standard E: 5-8 Science and Technology

Ohio Standards:

  • Grades 6-8 Science and Technology Benchmark A
  • Grades 6-8 Science and Technology Benchmark B

Content Knowledge

GIS (geographic information system) has various layers representing different sets of data. Some general examples are the following: hydrology - water patterns, topography - surface land features, ecology - interactions between vegetation and animal life, geology - subsurface land features, land use, utilities, soil types, streets, land parcels, other human characteristics such as demographic or socioeconomic. Layers can be sorted into two groups, physical layers and human layers. Physical layers are information about the natural features of an area. Human layers are facts about people, their structures, or their interactions with the land.




From Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System:

GIS is at work around the world and across your neighborhood. Here's a sample list of ways in which GIS touches everyday life:

  • Planning school bus routes based on student residences
  • Studying water consumption patterns in arid areas
  • Designing noise abatement buffer zones around an airport
  • Mapping current sewer service areas and projected need
  • Profiling present bank customers by branch office
  • Identifying telephone market territories across the country
  • Researching changing wildlife habitat in a national park
  • Modeling hurricane evacuation scenarios in a coastal city
  • Laying out neighborhood newspaper delivery routes
  • Analyzing patterns of toxic wastes in area soils
  • Documenting archaeological sites and findings

Viewing global vegetation cover from satellite images


Break the students into groups of 3 (computer user, recorder, manager/reporter). Each group represents a successful businessperson and each is financially well off. Each has been eyeing the neighborhood around the school as the site for a new business or community service. Using GIS, the students will choose one business or service that will be constructed in the neighborhood and give the rationale for where it will be located.

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Group of one or two students per computer

Pacing/Suggested Time: 1-2 days

Printable PDF Worksheets

Inventory of Residential Preferences